Is Bukayo Saka world class? Breaking down Arsenal, England star's rise

A couple days ago, I found myself doing a thing I don't normally do: agreeing with Rio Ferdinand. Actually, let's say "half-agreeing" or maybe "quarter-agreeing."

After Manchester City's Champions League win over Copenhagen, the former Manchester United defender and current BT Sport commentator claimed that City's Phil Foden was "world class" and that Arsenal's Bukayo Saka was not.

At the end of last season, I tried to come up with a systematic-ish way of determining who actually is "world class." Basically, I decided that at a given moment, there could only be two starting XIs worth of world-class players. Two keepers, four center-backs, four full-backs, two holding midfielders, four advanced midfielders, and six attackers.

If "world class" is going to have any meaning, it should be exclusive. Given that, Phil Foden is not world class, and neither is Saka. Purposefully or not, though, Ferdinand hit a nerve by bringing Saka into the conversation.

Outside of a group of cowards and idiots, everyone loves Saka. I love him. You love him. His teammates love him. His opponents love him; just listen to Manchester United's Luke Shaw talk about the guy.

Saka's ascension has mostly been frictionless, too. He debuted as a full-back under Unai Emery, immediately became a full-time starter for Arsenal at 17, then quickly became the most important player on Arsenal, and eventually started for England at a World Cup at 21 years old.

But outside of maybe four players in the past 30 years -- Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Kylian Mbappé, and Erling Haaland -- there's always a bit of a struggle to break into that world-class tier. The development goes from top prospect to top player; from there, it takes a bit of time to become a true superstar. In order to be a world-class attacker, at least in a way I've defined it, you have to score and create goals at an elite rate, and you have to do it in a way that drives winning at the highest level.

Saka hasn't quite done that yet, but he's getting really close.